I first made butternut squash soup with candied bacon last autumn, after watching a masterclass episode of MasterChef Australia in which Matt Preston shared his recipe for an easy pumpkin soup garnished with pepita (squash seeds) and bacon candied in brown sugar. I simplified his recipe further to come up with the version I shared last year.

Since then, I’ve changed the way I candy the bacon pieces for a crunchier texture; I think it’s more accurate to call this version bacon brittle. The recipe produces twice as much bacon brittle as you need for two bowls of soup but it’s very hard to resist adding more so the extra soon disappears. It will last a day in the fridge in an airtight container or feel free to halve the amounts.

Pete and I like the subtle warming flavours of the mixed spice, but you can certainly omit the spice if you like. I’ve made it both ways and we like both versions.

Vegetarians can substitute pumpkin seeds for bacon, toasting them gently before mixing them into the hot caramel and allowing the brittle to set.

This year, I’ve been able to use our homegrown butternut squash for the first time and just love them so we’ll definitely be growing more next year.

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Butternut Squash Soup with Bacon Brittle

Serves 2 (with extra bacon brittle)

Ingredients
150 grams cubed pancetta/ lardons or chopped streaky bacon
100 grams caster sugar
1 butternut squash
1 teaspoon mixed spice
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (or bacon fat drained from cooking the bacon)
100 grams caster sugar
0.5 litres homemade chicken or vegetable stock (or water)
Salt and pepper
Optional: 2-3 tablespoons double cream

Method

  • In a frying pan, dry fry the cubed bacon until it the fat starts to colour a little, about 5-8 minutes. I like my bacon to still have some chew, but you can cook a little longer for a more crispy finish if you prefer.
  • When the bacon is cooked to your liking, scoop out the bacon pieces and set aside. Optional: retain the bacon fat left in the pan, to use when cooking the squash.

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  • Before starting the bacon brittle, get a baking tray ready by lining it with greaseproof paper or a silicon mat.
  • In a clean heavy-based frying pan evenly sprinkle the sugar across the surface area and cook over a medium heat. Do not stir, and keep a continuous watch.

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  • When most of the sugar has melted into a clear liquid, shake and swirl the pan gently to mix hotter and cooler areas and help the rest of the sugar to melt. Do not stir!
  • As soon as the melted sugar begins to brown, watch like a hawk.
  • Once the sugar takes on a decent caramel brown colour, remove from the heat and immediately add the bacon pieces. Mix thoroughly and quickly.
  • Immediately pour out the mixture onto your prepared baking tray and poke any lumps flat with a wooden spoon, if needed. The brittle will start to set very quickly, so you won’t have much time. Leave the bacon brittle to cool and harden.

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  • Preheat the oven to 180 °C.
  • Peel the squash and remove seeds and fibres from the centre. Roughly chop the flesh into chunks, about an 3 cm or so in size and spread them out in a baking dish.

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  • Sprinkle a teaspoon of mixed spice (if using) and a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil or bacon fat (or a mixture of both) over the squash.
  • Bake until soft, 30-40 minutes.
  • Heat the stock in a pan or the microwave, or boil the kettle if using water.
  • Put the baked squash, stock (or water) and a little salt and pepper into a blender and blitz until smooth. Add double cream, if using, and briefly blend again.
  • Taste and add more seasoning if required.
  • Serve the squash immediately, with broken pieces of bacon brittle on top.

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Looking for more inspiration? Try Nazima’s Winter Squash Veloute with Chipotle Lime Roasted Seeds & Apple, Camilla’s Spelt and Butternut Squash Cake and Becca’s Paneer Stuffed Butternut Squash.

I’m entering this into Ren’s Simple & In Season (hosted this month by Katie) and Michelle & Helen’s Extra Veg challenges.

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I made this soup using my lovely Froothie blender, which is fast becoming one of the most frequently used appliances in our kitchen. It’s so powerful and quick, it’s a pleasure to blitz fruit and vegetables. We also enjoy using it to blend and cook really quick soups from scratch, such as this recipe for courgette and blue cheese soup, and a simple tomato soup made with fruits picked only seconds before – making this in the Optimum 9400 resulted in an incredibly fresh tasting soup. It’s also a doddle to make custard from scratch, which is excellent news for ice cream making!

Kavey Eats received a review Optimum 9400 power blender from Froothie. All opinions are my own. Please see the right side bar for a special offer on buying the Optimum with an extended warranty via my affiliate link.

 

Like many of you, I pick up ideas from other blogs, TV and Pinterest all the time. It’s wonderful to have so many sources of inspiration!

The idea of forming bacon into little cups in which to bake eggs is one I’ve encountered so often I can no longer recall where I saw it first but it’s a very simple thing to do and a way to present the same old ingredients a little differently.

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Bacon Baked Eggs

Ingredients
1 slice of back bacon or 1.5 slices streaky bacon per egg
Eggs
Salt and pepper

  • Arrange your bacon slices into a muffin tray to make cups, pushing firmly where the pieces overlap, to make a better seal. Using back bacon, we found it easiest to cut each slice into two pieces first, and use the large end at the bottom of the compartment.

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  • Crack an egg into each compartment and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

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  • Bake in a preheated (180 C, fan) oven until the egg whites have set, approximately 10-15 minutes.

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  • The bacon baked eggs should pop out of the tin easily, as the bacon fat will have naturally greased the compartments as they cooked.

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  • Serve hot, with fresh bread and perhaps some silky home-made Hollandaise.

Next time, I may add some baby spinach leaves under the eggs, or grate some aged Comte over the top before baking.

 

Although I find our Masterchef series has become dull and formulaic I really enjoy Masterchef Australia, hosted by Gary Mehigan, George Calombaris and Matt Preston. Although the occasional over-the-top sycophancy of some of the contestants can be a little grating, mostly they are just exhuberant and gung-ho in a way we seldom embrace in the UK but ought to a little more; it’s energising! I like the range of challenges the Masterchef Australia contestants are given; so much more varied than our trio of stints in professional kitchen, random staff canteen and cooking for the judges. I also like the masterclasses given by the presenters and guest experts.

One recent evening, we ploughed through a few episodes stacked up on the DVR, including one featuring a masterclass by Matt Preston. I loved the simplicity of his recipe for “pumpkin soup with a twist”, and we made a further simplified version for lunch the very next day, using the organic butternut squash we had in the fridge.

I particularly liked his idea to garnish the soup with bacon and pepitas (pumpkin seeds) candied in brown sugar. Although I have, in the past, carefully saved the seeds from a squash, washed them clean of all the fruit clinging to them and roasted them in the oven, I decided to skip the pepitas this time. I also simplified the overall recipe quite a bit more, skipping the apples, onions, garlic in the soup and the fried sage leaves on top.

It was ridiculously easy and it was rather good; ideal for those who love sweet-savoury combinations.

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Butternut Squash Soup with Candied Bacon

Ingredients
1 butternut squash
1 tub of home-made stock (beef, chicken or vegetable), approximately 1 litre
1 teaspoon mixed spice
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
150 grams cubed pancetta, lardons or chopped streaky bacon
3 tablespoons Demerara sugar

Method

I’ve updated this recipe, turning the candied bacon into more of a bacon brittle; the caramelised sugar solidifies to a satisfyingly crunchy texture. Please see the updated recipe here.

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  • While the oven preheated to 180 C, we cut the butternut squash into thirds, sprinkled a teaspoon of mixed spice and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over it and baked in its skin for approximately half an hour.
  • In the meantime, we defrosted a tub of home-made beef stock we had in the freezer.

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  • We fried the pancetta until cooked before adding 3 the brown sugar. We cooked these together for a minute or two until the sugar dissolved and darkened. We realised afterwards that it could have done with a minute or two longer in the pan to add a touch more crunch, and may also have benefited from draining some of the rendered bacon fat before adding the sugar. We poured the candied bacon onto a silicon baking sheet to cool.

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  • When the squash was roasted, we peeled the skin away and added it to the stock.

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  • When both were hot we blended the soup till smooth and then seasoned to taste.
  • We served the soup with candied bacon and fresh, soft white bread.

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With so few ingredients, the quality of the organic produce we used gave the finished dish wonderful flavours.

 

Kavey Eats was sent a selection of organic produce by Organic UK Food as part of the Organic Naturally Different campaign.

Aug 282013
 

I’d never made a potato salad before this one.

Well… actually I had made warm salads that include potatoes… but never the dish we traditionally call by that name – new potatoes bound together in a mayonnaise-based dressing.

Several years ago, the American Head of IT where I worked shared his potato salad tips with me, after he hosted the IT summer party in his back garden and I raved about his magnificent potato salad. He’d been a professional chef in his previous career; yes I was surprised at the job change too – for the record, he was very good at both. I wrote his recipe down at the time but mislaid it and by the time I realised, he’d retired and moved back to the States.

But a few tips stuck in my mind.

  • Use lots of fatty bacon and make sure you include all the bacon fat that renders as you cook it.
  • Don’t stint on the mayonnaise.
  • Add chopped capers or gherkins for acidity and crunch.
  • Toss the potatoes in the dressing while they’re still warm.

So one of the dishes I was determined to try with our home grown new potatoes this year was a classic bacon-laced, mayonnaise-heavy potato salad. Of the two early potatoes we’ve grown, Home Guard seems better suited to this dish than Red Duke of York, as it holds it shape better when cooked, so that’s what I’ve used here.

And, of course, the potato salad had to live up to my memories of that magnificent lost recipe.

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In the end, I made up the recipe on the spot, and by very good fortune, it came out perfectly.

The photos really don’t do this justice at all, which is totally my fault as I decided to make my first ever potato salad less than an hour before we headed out to the annual summer barbecue at our allotments and I only grabbed a couple of snap shots of the finished dish, in the box I mixed (and transported) it in. I should have spooned a neat pile into a small clean bowl to show it off better but instead you’ll just have to take my word for it that this recipe is worth trying.

I’m calling it Heart Attack Potato Salad because of the ratio of dressing to potatoes and the amount of fat in the dressing!

 

Heart Attack Potato Salad

Ingredients
Optional: 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
500 grams firm new potatoes, scrubbed but skins on
100 grams streaky bacon, chopped
125 ml Kewpie Japanese mayonnaise
2 medium pickled gherkins, finely diced

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Note: Kewpie mayonnaise is made with egg yolks rather than whole eggs, which makes it much richer than typical European commercial mayonnaise brands. The apple and malt vinegars give it a slight sweetness and the MSG creates an umami richness. If you can’t get it, either make a rich home-made mayonnaise or substitute with regular and add a small pinch of sugar.

Note: I like the sweet style pickled gherkins rather than the very sour type or the dill pickle ones, so that’s what I used here.

Note: Bacon doesn’t need any additional oil to fry, but adding a touch of extra oil at the beginning lets it take on lots of bacon flavour, to add to the dressing if your bacon doesn’t render much out. For a very slightly healthier version, omit the vegetable oil.

Method

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  • Chop your new potatoes in half or quarters, depending on size, and put them on to boil. My preference is for bite size pieces in a potato salad, though some people prefer much smaller dice.

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  • Add a tablespoon of oil to a frying pan (if using) and gently fry the chopped bacon. I don’t like bacon fried until it’s crunchy, so I fried mine until it showed a little browning but was still soft.

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  • Allow the bacon to cool a little, then combine bacon, bacon fat / cooking oil and mayonnaise and mix well. You’re adding a lot of extra fat to the mayonnaise emulsion so it may take a bit of effort to mix it into a smooth dressing.

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  • Once the potatoes are cooked through, drain and leave in the pan to steam and dry a little further.

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  • While the potatoes are still warm, mix thoroughly with the dressing. If you like, you can do this by putting potatoes and dressing into a sealed container and gently shaking and turning.
  • Serve warm or cold.

As a potato salad novice, I’d really like to hear about your favourite potato salad recipes or tips. I was utterly delighted with the tastiness of my first attempt, which I’ve shared here, but now I’ve dipped my toe in, I’m keen to discover more excellent home-made potato salad recipes. All advice welcome!

 

This post was originally published as a guest post on Pete Drinks.

We eat first with our eyes, so it’s no surprise that I’ve pinned more food images to my Pinterest boards than any others. One of the recipes that caught my eye was this Guinness & Cheddar Meatloaf from The Galley Gourmet blog. Admittedly, it was the sight of bacon-wrapped meat that drew my eye, but I also liked the sound of the beef, lamb and cheddar meat loaf and the beer and honey glaze.

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We made a few small changes to ingredients, and halved the recipe to serve 4 (or two with generous leftovers). There was some leftover glaze, as indicated in the original recipe, which we poured over the leftovers before reheating.

Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf with a Stout & Honey Glaze

Glaze ingredients:
150 ml stout beer of your choice
50 grams light brown sugar
50 grams (2-3 tablespoons) honey
Meatloaf Ingredients:
1 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
90 ml stout beer
1 slice white bread, roughly torn
60 ml whole milk
225 grams ground beef
225 grams pound ground lamb
1 large egg
100 grams strong cheddar cheese, grated
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 heaped teaspoon umami paste (or 10 grams dried porcini mushrooms, reconstituted and finely chopped)
0.5 teaspoon salt
0.5 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
200 grams good quality streaky bacon, approximately 12 rashers

  • First make the glaze by bringing the stout, honey and sugar to a boil, in a small pan, then cooking on a medium heat until the the liquid thickens and reduces to half of the original volume. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

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  • Preheat the oven to 180° C (fan).
  • Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan and sauté the onion until just softened and beginning to take on colour.
  • Add the garlic and fry for another minute.
  • Add the stout and simmer briskly until the excess liquid has been absorbed or evaporated.
  • Set onion mixture aside in a bowl to cool down.

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  • If using porcini mushrooms, add boiling water to reconstitute, soak for 10 minutes, drain and finely chop.
  • In a bowl, soak the bread in the milk, tossing lightly until soggy but not falling apart.

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  • In a large bowl, combine all meatloaf ingredients except for the bacon. Mix by hand until thoroughly combined. (You can use a food processor for this step if you prefer).

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  • Line a rimmed baking tray with aluminium foil, transfer the meat mixture onto the foil and shape into a rounded loaf.
  • Drape the meatloaf with slightly overlapping strips of bacon, tucking the ends under the loaf. Carefully cover the ends of the loaf with additional rashers.

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  • Brush the top of the meatloaf with a few coats of the glaze.

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  • Bake for 45-50 minutes, basting with the juices, or extra marinade, 2 or 3 times during cooking.
  • Allow to rest for 5-10 minutes before cutting and serving.

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We both loved this recipe, and will definitely be making it again. Hope you enjoy it too!

 

Bacon Broccoli-0357

For most of my 40 years, I’ve labelled broccoli as The Devil’s Vegetable (along side celery, which still is). I’ve huffed and puffed indignantly about the increasing prevalence of this vegetable over the years – order a dish that comes with “green vegetables” and 99 times out of a 100 you’ll get a plate of green florets!

But a couple of years ago I experienced a broccoli epiphany.

You see, what I’ve always disliked about the most common broccoli, Calabrese, is the floret at the top – the bit that looks like the canopy of a tree. The stem, of which there is precious little, has always been the best bit.

Back in 2010, buying vegetable seeds for our back garden, we chose some that came with an offer for a free packet of purple sprouting broccoli. I wasn’t sure I’d like it but I could see from the picture on the packet that this variety produced long, slim stems with small florets at the end. Worth a shot, I reckoned. And lo, I found myself avidly eating the foodstuff I’d turned my nose up at for so long. Indeed, in the two years since I’ve keenly anticipated our harvest, lamenting when it’s late or not sufficiently high yield!

More recently, I came across another kind of broccoli that I’m loving – it’s a cross between Calabrese broccoli and Gai lan. (I’ve been ordering Gai lan for years in Chinese restaurants, but didn’t know until recently that it’s known as Chinese kale or Chinese broccoli and is also part of the Brassica oleracea species; I love Gai Lan for it’s long crunchy stems).

In the US, the cross is commonly known as baby broccoli though different producers have registered trademark names including Broccolini and Broccoletti.

Here in the UK, it’s marketed as Tenderstem.

To spread word about British grown Tenderstem and to show how versatile and quick it is to use, the Tenderstem press office have invited bloggers to suggest our own recipes for their “Tenderstem in 10″ (minutes) challenge.

They sent me some to experiment with.

The first portion I fried in a heavy based pan over high heat, to recreate the charred broccoli we enjoyed recently at Paul Merrett’s pub The Victoria – part of a dish of rabbit loin and liver. 5-6 minutes of cooking allowed the stems to soften a little, but retain a decent crunch, and the florets to char enough to provide that smoky extra flavour. We served these over a steaming parmesan risotto. Delicious!

Inspired by the common pairing of Parma ham wrapped around asparagus, the second portion were wrapped in rashers of smoked streaky bacon and fried in the same way as the first. Even with wrapping time, they took less than 10 minutes!

We had these on their own for a light but tasty evening meal, but you could serve them with Hollandaise or with soft boiled eggs if you like!

Bacon Broccoli-0359

 

Bacon Wrapped Tenderstem Broccoli (Tenderstem in 10)

Ingredients
Tenderstem broccoli
Streaky bacon (smoked or unsmoked, as you prefer)

Method

  • Wrap each stem in a rasher of bacon, starting at the cut end and spiralling up to the end. Press the bacon firmly where you finish.

Bacon Broccoli-0346 Bacon Broccoli-0348

  • Place a heavy based pan on the heat, add a little oil and allow to heat up before adding the broccoli stems.
  • Make sure to place the broccoli stems into pan with the exposed end of the rasher at the bottom, so the bacon doesn’t unravel during cooking.

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  • After a few minutes, turn the stems over to allow the bacon to brown on the other side.

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  • Depending on the thickness of your bacon rashers and broccoli stems, the stems will take 5-10 minutes to cook.
  • Serve plain, with Hollandaise sauce or soft boiled eggs for dipping.

Kavey Eats received a complimentary parcel of Tenderstem broccoli.

 

Last time I made Boston baked beans, I used slices of pork belly, but Pete’s not a huge pork belly fan, so I wanted to make a version that he’d enjoy as much as me.

As is so often the case in life, bangers (and bacon) were the answer!

I put bacon in at the beginning, so it could release its porky goodness into the beans. I browned the bangers in a frying pan and added them for the last hour of cooking time. As we had lots of soft white bread to mop up the sauce, I didn’t reduce the liquid down completely, but you can let it simmer a little longer without a lid, if you’d prefer the sauce to be thicker.

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Kavey’s Boston Baked Beans & British Bangers

Ingredients
400 grams good quality pork sausages
2 x 400 gram tins of white haricot beans in water
200 grams smoked bacon, cubed
2 heaped tablespoons light brown sugar
3 tablespoons black treacle
2 tablespoons French mustard
200g tinned chopped tomatoes
350 grams shallots, peeled but left whole
4 cloves
Salt and pepper

Note: I had a tin of butter beans in the larder, so substituted those for one of the tins of white haricot beans.

Method

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  • Tip the contents of the tins of haricot beans, liquid and all, into a large casserole. Add the sugar, black treacle, mustard, tomatoes and bacon. Add freshly ground black pepper at this stage, but adjust for salt later, as the bacon will add some during cooking.

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  • Stick the four cloves into one of the shallots, then add all the shallots to the pot.

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  • Cover and cook on the stove (medium heat) or in the oven (140 C) for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

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  • Shortly before the two hours are up, fry the sausages in a hot pan for a few minutes. They do not need to be cooked through, just browned all over.

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  • Add the sausages to the pot and cook for a further one hour, with the lid removed to allow the liquid to reduce, stirring occasionally.
  • Check and adjust seasoning before serving.

I served this with some fresh soft white bread. A green side salad would also be a nice addition.

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I was really happy with my culinary handshake between Britain and Across The Pond; the porky bangers worked a treat with the smoky BBQ flavours of the Boston beans.

Do let me know what you think, and how you get on if you have a go at making this yourself.

Feb 212012
 

Internet food porn has a lot to answer for. Sometimes I see a single image, and that’s it, I have to have a go at making it myself.

That’s exactly what happened when I saw bacon pancakes: rashers of streaky bacon embedded in thick, fluffy pancakes.

Look!

Bacon Pancake LifeWithMel
from Cooking with Mel

Of course, bacon and pancakes is nothing new – I’ve loved the combination of fluffy pancakes, bacon, maple syrup (and American sausages too, if available) since I was a small child, making regular visits to relatives living in Florida. But previously, I always meant a stack of pancakes and an order of bacon on the side.

Cooking them together is, for me, all new!

A little internet research reveals that this idea was popularised in a series of adverts for American brand Aunt Jemima’s pancake batter mix back in the 1960s.

AuntJemimaAd

I’ve made thick pancakes before, but last time, I must have put too much baking powder in as they tasted a little odd, so I asked friends for their trusted recipes. I meant to follow Amee”s drop scone recipe but ended up leaving out some ingredients. If you already have a trusted pancake batter recipe, go ahead and use that, of course!

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Bacon Pancakes

Ingredients
6-8 rashers streaky bacon
125 grams plain flour
Small pinch of salt
0.5 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg, lightly beaten
75-125 ml milk (sorry, I sploshed directly from the carton, forgot to measure!)
Vegetable oil for frying

Good quality maple syrup to serve

Note: I chose smoked bacon, as I love the smokiness against sweet maple syrup, but choose whatever you prefer.

Method

  • Grill or fry your bacon until it’s well cooked, with a little browning on the surfaces. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, sift together the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder and sugar). Pour in the beaten egg and a little of the milk and beat together. Add more milk as necessary, to achieve a smooth, thick batter.
  • Heat a heavy-based frying pan over a medium heat until hot. Add a little oil.

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  • Place a bacon strip into the pan and immediately ladle or pour some batter over the top. You can either cover the bacon completely or leave the two ends sticking out, as I chose to do. If your pan is large enough, you may be able to make two pancakes at a time.
  • After 2 to 3 minutes, when you shake the pan, the pancake should slide freely and a few bubbles will show on the top surface. Slide a large fish slice beneath the pancake and carefully flip it over.
  • Cook for another minute or two, remove to a plate and repeat to make the rest.
  • Serve with generous amounts of maple syrup.

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What pancakes will you be making for Shrove Tuesday this year?

 

As a cheese and bacon addict, I often have leftover cheese in my fridge, not to mention the stash in my freezer. There’s often half a tub of sour cream or crème fraiche hanging around too, a few rashers of bacon leftover from a weekend brunch and half a bottle of mustard languishing in the cupboard.

And even though our harvest of home-grown potatoes was the lowest for several years, there are nearly always potatoes lurking in a dark corner of the kitchen.

So this pommes de terre Braytoises recipe adapted from Diana Henry’s Roast Figs, Sugar Snow book was a perfect choice to counter the cold weather outside, be frugal with leftover ingredients and try something from a new cookery book too!

We adapted the recipe to 2 people, changing some of the ingredients and instructions to suit us better.

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Diana Henry’s Roast Figs, Sugar Snow

Diana Henry is a cook and food writer with six books under her belt including Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons, Cook Simple and Food from Plenty. She also writes for the Telegraph and its magazine, Stella, presents food television programmes such as Market Kitchen and broadcasts on Radio 4.

I’d read good feedback on her book of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and North African dishes (Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons) and likewise, for her latest title, Food from Plenty, which aims to share recipes made from "the plentiful, the seasonal and the leftover".

But I’d not really seen a great deal of discussion about her previous book, Roast Figs, Sugar Snow, originally published by Mitchell Beazley (an Octopus publishing imprint) in 2009, but with a new edition released in November 2011.

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Having grown up in Northern Ireland, she adores snow, "its crystalline freshness, the silent mesmeric way it falls, the way it blankets you in a white, self-contained world". For this book, she travelled to several other cold climate locations, compiling a collection of recipes that represent winter food.

As for the name of the book, a passage in her introduction partially explains:

"On dark afternoons, my fifth-year teacher read us the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder. In the simple snowy world of the American mid-west found in Little House in the Big Woods, an orange and a handful of nuts in the toe of a sock on Christmas day seemed as alluring as the seeds from a crimson pomegranate; fat pumpkins gathered in the autumn and stored in the attic were fairy tale vegetables. But it was the story of maple syrup that intrigued me most: how you could tap the sap of maple trees when there was a ‘sugar snow’ (snowy conditions in which the temperature goes below freezing at night but above freezing during the day), boil the sap down to a sticky amber syrup and pour it on to snow. There it set to a cobwebby toffee. Here was a magical food that you could get from inside a tree and make into sweets. I got my first bottle of maple syrup soon after being read this passage and have loved it ever since."

In a similar vein, throughout the book are passages from poems and books as varied as Robert Frost’s Evening in a sugar orchard, Blackberry Picking by Seamus Heaney, Figs by D H Lawrence, Wild Fruits by Henry David Thoreau and Hans Christian Andersen’s The Fir Tree.

Photography, by Jason Lowe, is beautiful and evocative. There are images of big hearty dishes, ingredients and scenes from the places whose food Henry brings together. That said, many of the recipes – I’d say well over half – don’t have an accompany photograph, so this may not suit those who prefer to see what all finished dishes look like.

Oddly enough, whilst I really loved reading this book, flicking from recipe to recipe, reading the introductions and stories about the places, ingredients and dishes, I found that there were only a handful of recipes I want to actually cook. Partly, this is because there’s a Northern European preponderance of walnuts and pecans, poppy seeds and cinnamon, dill, prunes, cranberries and juniper berries, chestnuts, dried mushrooms and smoked fish. Some of those ingredients I like, in some contexts, but less so in cooking. Others, I’m simply not a fan of. I like this book but can’t see me using it very often.

That said, there are still many recipes that appeal as great comfort for a cold day – Antico Risotto Sabaudo (a Fontina-rich risotto), Poulet Suissesse (chicken with crème fraiche, mustard and cheese), Sobronade (an every day version of cassoulet without the duck), Beef Pie with wild mushrooms and claret (billed as better than cleavage for its seductive powers), Dublin Coddle (a layered bake of sausages, bacon, onions, potatoes and chicken stock), Poires Savoyards (cream, butter and sugar baked pears), Hot Lightning (featuring apples, pears and bacon), Apple Bread, Roast Figs and Plums in Vodka with cardamom cream and Scandinavian Pepparkakor (Christmas biscuits).

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Pommes de Terre Braytoises
Cheese and Ham Stuffed Baked Potatoes

Adapted from Diana Henry’s Roast Figs, Sugar Snow

Ingredients (for 2)
2 baking potatoes
25 grams butter
Salt and pepper
125 grams Camembert
4 thick rashers of bacon or about 60 grams ham, cut into small pieces
4 tablespoons sour cream or crème fraiche
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 egg
50-75 grams Comte, grated

Note: We used left over bacon, fried in a pan, so we added the bacon fat to the mix too.

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Method

  • Prick and bake the potatoes (180 C fan oven) for approximately an hour, or until tender all the way through.

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  • Cut each potato in half, scoop out most of the flesh, careful not to pierce the skin.
  • Mash the potato flesh with butter and season with salt and pepper.

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  • Roughly chop the Camembert and the bacon or ham. Mix with the mashed potato flesh, along with half the sour cream or crème fraiche, the mustard and the egg. Henry suggests discarding the rind of the Camembert before using, but we chose to use it.

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  • Divide the mixture between the 4 potato skins. Mix the rest of the sour cream or crème fraiche with the grated Comte and spread over the top of each potato.

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  • Bake for 10-15 minutes until the tops of the potatoes are golden and bubbling (180 C fan oven).

We really enjoyed these potatoes, they made for a very comforting and delicious week day dinner and were very easy to make.

We so often have cheese, bacon and sour cream or crème fraiche left over, we have already made these a couple of times and will certainly be making them again soon.

I’m submitting this post to Family Friendly Fridays, a monthly blog event hosted by Fabulicious Food.

familyfriendlyfridays


 

Chatting to the UK arm of US publisher Rizzoli about titles I might like to review, the pull of the pig drew me towards The Whole Hog Cookbook. Promising “chops, loin, shoulder, bacon and all that good stuff”, author Libbie Summers draws on childhood memories of her grandparents’ hog farm together with “modern sensibilities [that] lend new twists to beloved dishes”.

As the front flap declares, “the best way to honor an animal like the pig is to appreciate every part”.

The book starts with an introduction to the strengths and characteristics of various heritage breeds of pig before sharing recipes divided into chapters for loin, Boston shoulder, bacon, spare ribs, picnic shoulder, leg, offal and slices.

The names of these cuts remind you immediately that the book is an American one, though there are plenty of websites online that will help you translate the names of cuts to their UK equivalents.

That said, the recipes themselves take inspiration from all around the world, including Hangover Irish Crubeens, Spaghetti alla Carbonara (made with guanciale) and Pork Osso Buco, Serrano Ham Croquettes and Rioja Potatoes, Summers’ Aunt Setsuko’s Ham Fried Rice, Crispy Thai Pork Belly, West Indian Pork Roti, Cuban Pork Roast Someone needs to tell Summers, though, that the “scotch” in scotch eggs doesn’t mean they’re Scottish, as she’s called them!

And of course, there are many American-inspired recipes, gleaned from all across the country and adapted and refined by Summers. I’m tempted by lots of them, including Prodigal Chocolate Pig (a moist chocolate cake featuring bacon and rum), Buttery Potted Ham, Sweet Tea-Brined Pork Roast, Grilled Summer Corn Soup, her grandma Lula Mae’s Double Cola-Braised Pork Shoulder, Citrus Sugar Rubbed Ribs, Southern Peanut Soup, Savoury Mushroom and Bacon Bread Pudding…

Summers also provides a number of recipes for side dishes and condiments such as Clementine Prosecco Marmalade, Buttermilk Biscuits, Stout Mustard, Lemon Mint Mashed Potatoes, Creole Mayo, Moon Gate Bacon Jam, Lemon Thyme Custard, Applesauce, Hot Guava Dipping Sauce, Banana Chutney, Butt-Kickin’ Ketchup

I think I might leave the Hot Peppered Pickled Pig’s Feet for someone more adventurous though!

I’ve already taken inspiration from Summers’ South Cackalacky Spare Ribs recipe, though I created my own recipe for the Cackalacky sauce, I used Summers’ rib rub, on beef instead of pork. And I’d never have heard of Cackalacky if not for the book.

Intrigued by two baking recipes, the husband’s disdainfully raised eyebrows at the thought of sweet scones ruled out the Rosemary Bacon Scones (which also feature white chocolate), so I decided to make the Bacon Banana Cookies instead.

Immediately, I was confronted with the other weakness of the book (from my British point of view) – it’s use of cup measures instead of weights/ volumes.

Whilst a cup of sugar is quick and simple, a cup of peanut butter is much more of a pain.

Luckily, Summers doesn’t drive me to complete distraction and mostly lists ingredients such as fruit and vegetables more rationally with numbers of carrots or bananas, though she occasionally refers to onions by cup after peeling and dicing, which surely depends on how small I dice and gives me little guidance on how much to purchase in the first place.

I realise cups are easier for those who grew up with them, and one gets better at estimating how much to buy with experience, but it strikes me as a dreadfully inaccurate way of measuring for many ingredients and makes it difficult when purchasing unfamiliar ingredients.

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image from the book; my cookies

Bacon Banana Cookies

Ingredients
1.5 cups all purpose flour (plain flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
0.25 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
1.5 teaspoon ground cinnamon
0.25 teaspoon kosher salt (large grained salt, a little like sea salt)
0.5 cup / 1 stick unsalted butter (113 grams)
1.25 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 bananas, mashed
0.5 pound bacon, cooked crisp, chopped (225 grams)

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Method

  • Preheat oven to 400 F (200 C).
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

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  • In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, half teaspoon of the ground cinnamon and the salt.

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  • In a medium mixing bowl, use a hand mixer to cream together the butter and 1 cup of the sugar.
  • Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until they are fully incorporated.

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  • Beat in the vanilla.

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  • Add the butter mixture to the flour mixture.

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  • Then stir in the mashed bananas, beating well after each addition.

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  • Fold in the bacon.
  • Stir together the remaining quarter cup sugar and the remaining cinnamon and set aside.

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  • Drop the dough by heaping tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheet 1 inch apart.

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  • Sprinkle generously with the cinnamon sugar and bake for 10-12 minutes, until slightly browned.

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  • Allow the cookies to cool completely before storing in an airtight container. Cookies will keep for 5 to 7 days.

Note: I missed the instruction to separate out some of the sugar and ground cinnamon to sprinkle onto the cookies before baking, so they were mixed into the dough along with the rest.

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So what did we think?

Pete wasn’t convinced by the flavour combination of banana and bacon – he didn’t dislike it but didn’t particular fall for it either. But I loved it! I’d probably up the amount of bacon a touch more actually, to bring it out even more.

Where we both agreed was on the texture – far more bread or cake like than what we expect from a cookie.

Worst of all, although the recipe advises that the cookies will keep for 5-7 days, after less than 24 hours in a plastic box (into which they were placed only after they had completely cooled down for a few hours) they were already a little soggy!

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Sadly, I can’t recommend this recipe as it stands, however, I liked the flavours enough to want to find a successful version.

(I might try it as a loaf of banana bread though, as I think that would work).

If you have any advice on how to bring banana and bacon together in a cookie that has a texture more like the traditional slightly chewy centred American cookie, please let me know!


Libbie Summers’ The Whole Hog Cookbook is currently available from Amazon for £13.97 (RRP £19.95).

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